1. Increase the excise tax on cigarettes by $1.00 per pack;
2. Support comprehensive clean indoor air laws at the regional level; and
3. Secure tobacco prevention and cessation funding from the general budget.
During the 2016 legislative session, after a delayed budget and long battle, a 65-cent cigarette tax increase was approved by the state legislature. This was the first increase in West Virginia's cigarette tax since 2003, and was a step forward to reduce tobacco use in the state. However, it was disappointing to the American Lung Association in West Virginia that state leaders missed an opportunity to achieve far greater public health benefits by increasing the tobacco tax by at least $1.00 per pack and dedicating a portion of the revenue to programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. Other tobacco products such as cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco also will see a small jump in the excise tax with the rate going from 7 percent to 12 percent of the wholesale price. In addition, the legislature recognized the emerging threat of electronic cigarettes by placing a 7.5 cent per milliliter tax on the liquid nicotine in the products.
Through local boards of health, counties in West Virginia have added protections for workers from secondhand smoke and its health effects. Over 50 percent of West Virginia's population is protected by local smokefree regulations from exposure to secondhand smoke in public places and workplaces, including restaurants and bars.
A couple of county boards of health have amended their smokefree regulations this year:
* Mercer County strengthened its smokefree regulation by adding electronic smoking devices to it, and is considering making their existing smokefree regulation comprehensive.
* Monongalia County further clarified the definition of smoking in its regulation to make clear its intent to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes and removed the exemption for hookah bar and bingo operations.
The American Lung Association in West Virginia will continue to educate lawmakers on the ongoing fight against tobacco. Our goal is to build champions within the legislature and a groundswell of advocates to advance our goals: a long overdue increase in the cigarette tax, parity between taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products, comprehensive local clean indoor air laws and funding to prevent our youth from starting to smoke as well as helping individuals who want to quit to do so.